The Tour day Schmalz returns this year for its seventh installment. It's an unfair and cruel look at the hardworking professionals of the pro peloton, and I guarantee that I will eventually make fun of your favorite rider. I even make fun of my own favorite riders, this just goes to show that life is, of course cruelly unfair, but you already knew that because Justin Bieber controls the entertainment world. But that's enough about barely pubescent pop stars, lets get to the business of discussing other body-hair-deficient men, shall we?
If you want the quick and dirty preview of this year's Tour de France it is as follows: Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans are the favorites and the Tour will essentially come down to who can most effectively avoid the most flying Spaniards in the hectic stages of the first week of the Tour (I'm looking at you, Euskaltel—you crash a lot—you know it's true).
A more nuanced analysis would tell you that this year's Tour has 96.1 kilometers of ITT (including the 6.1 prologue)—last year's Tour had only 42.5 kilometers of ITT, not including the 23 kilometers of team time trial that Euskaltel used to crush Sammy Sanchez's GC chances—so this year's Tour will favor a rider who can stay close in the mountains and make up time in the time trials. And that long and convoluted sentence serves to announce the death of Fränk Schleck's Tour hopes for this year. Thanks for coming Fränk, see you next year!
Coming into this Tour we have Bradley Wiggins on a tear with wins at Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie, and the Critérium du Dauphiné. Cadel won the Critérium International way back in the spring and was third at the Critérium du Dauphiné, which along with the Tour de Suisse, serves as a turbo trainer for racers to warm up on before the Tour. You could argue that Wiggo is coming in to form too early, but he has all of the science-ness of Team Sky (and their theme song) behind him. Cadel finished third at the Dauphiné this year, but he may have been playing his cards close to his chest. He podium-ed at the Dauphiné last year, and could be on target to have the same form again this year.
The GC Contenders
Let me start by saying that anyone's who's followed bikes for more than five years is still freaked out about how weird it sounds to describe Cadel as a savvy tactician who can dominate a race. It's just inconceivable. Five years ago, Cadel was written off as a timid wheel-follower who wouldn't attack and who descended like a pensioner on a balance board. But after he won the rainbow jersey, he transformed into a tenacious competitor who timed his attacks well and could grittily hang on and claw back time when he was attacked by better climbers. In 2007, I would've put better odds on dogs learning Esperanto than on Cadel turning into a calculating, winning machine, but he's done just that—and to Cadel I say, "Well done." and "No, I did not step on your dog."
And as opposed to last year, Cadel won't have to beg to have his team support him this year. There's no Thor SMASHing to contend with—BMC is all about Cadel this year. There's no sprinter taking up a spot that could be saved for someone who could help Cadel out, unlike...
Wiggo is essentially down two riders to Cadel with the inclusion of Mark Cavendish and Bernard Eisel. In the early stages, Sky will be putting their team at the front to help Cav wins stages against the likes of Sagan and Greipel while Cadel will be floating along in those stages in a red cloud of teammates whose only job will be to provide a soft spot for him to land on lest he get tangled up with a (not Oscar, he can ride his bike) Spaniard. This early stage hunting could serve to wear out the Sky riders for later in the race, when they might want to, you know, win the Tour.
If Cadel can gain time on Wiggo in the mountains, that could potentially offset any time he'd lose to Wiggo in the time trials. And if Wiggo is left isolated because Froome was busy heading the leadout train in the early stages while Cadel has Tejay setting the pace in the mountains, look for the slap fight of the century later at the Team Sky bus between Wiggo and Cav. Personally, I hoping they fight whilst the Sky Team Theme song is playing.
Back in early May, Nibali decided to announce that he wasn't going to be riding for Liquigas-Cannondale anymore (telling them, "It's not you, it's me."), and as new team announcements go, this one was a bit early, like 4 months too early. And he hasn't named which team he will be going to, mind you, he just knows that it will be "not Liquigas-Cannondale". This does not bode well for a guy who will want some help from his teammates in the Tour.
Nibali's situation is akin to that of a gal waiting in line outside a night club who ditches her friends, chats up the bouncer to get in and giggles to her friends, "I'll see you inside!" I am sure that things at the Tour won't be in the least bit awkward at all, especially when Nibali's hotel room is filled with potential suitors that are trying to sign him for the entire race.
If Nibali can survive the "Private Pyle Full Metal Jacket" midnight visits from his teammates, he can do well at the Tour, but his urine filled water bottles may put a damper on his chances.
The good news is that Fränk won't have to worry about looking around for Andy during the race. The bad news is that he'll be searching at 6th place—and he'll lose so much time in the time trials that he'll finish in 2008.
I guess it's my duty as an American to mention that Levi Leipheimer will be riding the Tour, it's also my duty as a person with a frontal lobe and an operating memory to mention that Levi only wins races that are about a week long. The Tour is three weeks long, and the math says Levi will be dirty dancing with fifth place.
Horner got ca-bonged out of last year's race, and he almost didn't make this year's team. If I were to be generous, I'd describe the situation at Radio Shack as a tire fire in hell's junkyard. The only way Horner becomes the Radio Shack team leader is if Fränk gets sick of trying and if Klöden gets kidnapped. Horner is probably Radio Shack's plan C, but he's his own Plan A, so the first few mountain days will be interesting to say the least.
Gesink could really surprise at this year's Tour, but somehow he always finds a way to forget to race during one of the stages of a three week race. This tends to make him do things like finish 6th. Gesink won the Tour of California, but nobody noticed because Sagan won five of the eight stages there. Gesink's time trialing isn't disastrous though, so he could put in an attack in the mountains and potentially catapult himself onto the podium.
Menchov will race. He will finish somewhere in the top ten. No one will care. Menchov is the Moody Blues of bikes.
You can't spell Klöden without öld.
Voeckler's dropped out of two races so far this season with knee issues. He's basically been included in Europcar's Tour roster due to his stifling Frenchness, because Rolland will likely have a better Tour than Voeckler. But that doesn't mean that France won't obsess over Voeckler, his knee will be watched as karefully in France as Kim Kardashian's keyster. But unlike last year, he won't have the benefit of the element of surprise, and won't get as much leeway if he attacks. If his knee is still attached by the third week of the Tour, watch for him to get into a break and put on the "Voeckler Show", but his odds at hitting the top ten are very slim.
Can Ryder win the Giro and the Tour? I really doubt it, as the last Tour/Giro double winner was Marco Pantani in 1998, when he was racing with blood so thick he could've used it for mortar to build a a nice brick pirate ship. Plus, it's time for him to pay back VDV for his help in the Giro, which brings me to…
Can VDV win the Tour?
Why the hell not? There's lots of TT kilometers and he can hang in the mountains, it will take some luck, but anything can happen. And I will try to not jinx anything here by mentioning the words "VDV" and "crash" in the same sentence.
The most exciting race this year could potentially be between Sagan and Cavendish in the sprints. Sagan has been handily winning this year, and Cav is showing good form also (although he's allegedly losing weight so he can do well at the Olympics), and I can't wait to see what happens when they go head to head. I realize that there's other sprinters that will be at the Tour this year (Kittel gets his first start this year for instance), but I can't see any of the other sprinters beating Cav or Sagan without help from Spain and gravity.
Never in the history of bike racing has there been a celebration wingman like Daniel Oss. No one parties in the back after the business up front like Oss, and if Sagan wins at the Tour, look for something special from Oss. I've heard he's hired a falconer.
Johnny Hoogerland has become the patron saint of epic slo-mo replays with his VIP-vehicle induced cartwheel into the barbed wire fence from last year, but there were a lot of us who were into Hoogie before he went mainstream. Old school Hoogie fans will hoping for some classic attacks from 1,000k out at this year's Tour.
Sandy Casar and Jérémy Roy
I don't think there was anyone off the front for more kilometers last year than Casar and Roy. Watch for them to French the front of the race all Tour long.
The Polka Dot Jersey
The poor polka dot jersey, it's like an emo band's long forgotten myspace page, it just sits there, waiting for someone to care. Someone (probably French) will do the math about halfway through the race and will try to win the jersey, but barely anyone will remember who won the jersey after the Tour's over.
A final request
I am begging, as a person who cannot abide watching time trials, that the Tour consider using my idea of time staggered handicap starts for the final time trial in the Tour. The idea is simple, take the top 20 riders (let the rest of the guys just do a normal time trial—or none at all—take the day off Fränk!) and start them off according to their time gaps. The leader in the GC goes first and if anyone catches him before the line—they win the Tour. Who wouldn't watch this? Of course, there would be no drafting allowed, and with twenty guys it wouldn't be that hard to police. We need this to happen. And if the Tour won't do it, I'm taking my idea to the Vuelta, because they'll try anything, in fact, I'm pretty sure I could get them to eat a bug if I gave them a dollar.
You know that old box of bike parts you've put in your closet?
In Episode #4 of the Insider podcast from the 2011 Tour de France press room in Carmaux, the finish of Stage 10, Anthony Tan ropes back in Cyclingnews’ Daniel Benson and Procycling’s Eu
In Episode #3 of the Insider podcast from the 2011 Tour de France press room atop Super Besse, Anthony Tan ropes back in Cyclingnews’ Daniel Benson and Procycling’s European Editor, Dan